Healing the Wounded
By Maria Zankey
Photo by Jared Castaldi
February 02, 2017
Anne Marie Dougherty
During the peak of the Iraq war, ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. The man known by millions of viewers across the country suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly killed him.
It was 2006, and for many service members who suffered the same catastrophic wounds, Woodruff became an inspiration.
But it wasn’t just the military community who followed his recovery. The entire nation was captivated, including Drexel global journalism graduate Anne Marie Dougherty.
Dougherty was married to an active duty Marine and fellow Drexel graduate, and the reality settled in that there was a possibility that her husband, Kevin (pictured above), or one of his fellow Marines, could suffer the same fate as Woodruff. She was driven to take action.
As Woodruff healed, his family became motivated to help other veterans and their families gain access to the network of resources and support the Woodruffs had received. They founded an organization to do just that.
Through Dougherty’s network of Marine spouses, she came into the Woodruff family’s circle and soon became involved with the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
First as an early volunteer and later as an employee, Dougherty was fascinated by the Woodruffs’ ability to galvanize the tremendous outpouring of support and attention their story garnered to build a national brand. They had started a public awareness movement, and made a meaningful difference in the lives of veterans and military families.
“At the time, not many people were talking about traumatic brain injury or combat stress, which are now known as signature injuries of these wars,” Dougherty says. “Service members are surviving injuries that would have been fatal in earlier wars, thanks to better safety equipment and the ability to quickly evacuate casualties to higher echelons of care. The impact of that has been profound.”
Dougherty’s early work at the Foundation centered around her ability to help tell the Woodruff ’s story and build the brand. Her efforts took the organization from a kitchen table operation to the boardrooms of some of the biggest corporations in the world.
When her husband deployed to Marjah, Afghanistan in 2010, her work helping injured veterans and their families took on a whole new meaning — it became personal.
“What if this happens to my family?” Dougherty wondered. “It was even greater motivation for me to use the platform and goodwill surrounding the Woodruffs and Bob’s story to help others.”
Thankfully, her husband returned home safely and, shortly thereafter, Dougherty took on the Executive Director role of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. She immediately went to work to focus the organization’s mission and ensure the highest levels of performance and accountability.
“The veterans landscape was changing drastically — after a decade of war, the needs of injured veterans were staggering, but the number of veterans’ charities was equally as daunting, with more than 46,000 veteran nonprofits across the country,” she says.
She knew that to effectively address the issues, the Foundation had to become the industry standard for high-impact investments and meaningful outcomes. This ethos under her leadership helped transform the organization into one of the most highly regarded military- and veteran-serving organizations in the country.
The Foundation is credited with the vision and financial support that built some of the most successful networks and solutions in the veteran community and they have invested more than $33 million in programs reaching more than 2.5 million service members, veterans and their families.
Dougherty’s work has helped fund and develop programs like Team Red, White and Blue, an initiative that focuses on reintegrating post-9/11 veterans into civilian life through exercise and social activities; and the Farmer Veteran Coalition, which provides veterans the opportunity to succeed in farming and as agricultural leaders through education, training and collaboration. The organization has also partnered with Student Veterans of America to help veterans navigate the transition from combat to college.
These are just a few of the 300 programs the Foundation supports — and Dougherty has been recognized by the NonProfit Times and American Marketing Association as Nonprofit Marketer of the Year for her role in making it happen.
The Foundation recently wrapped up its annual Stand Up for Heroes fundraising event, now in its 10th year. Started by the Woodruffs in collaboration with the New York Comedy Festival, the event is a star-studded night of hope, healing and laughter, with performances from A-list comedians and headlined by Bruce Springsteen.
The 2016 event raised a record $6.3 million.
“Over 100 injured service members and their families join us each year,” says Dougherty. “They sit in the front rows, while best-in-the-business comedians and musicians perform for them. It creates a special energy and connectedness that everyone in the audience can feel.”
While she says progress has been made in certain realms of veterans’ support, the issues she faces in her role at the Foundation haven’t necessarily lessened — they’ve evolved.
“A decade later, the American public is weary. This nation is very patriotic, but there’s certainly a sense of fatigue,” Dougherty says. “So we make it our job to continue to engage and keep the public’s attention on this issue. We don’t want people to feel pessimistic about the future of the military — we want to remind them that when you take care of veterans when they come home, they will recover, and they will become more resilient than ever.”
This article originally appeared in the College of Arts and Sciences' Ask magazine feature story, "Agents of Change." For more Ask stories, visit askmagazine.org.